Cowboys Struggle But Slip Past Bison

Nearly 40 minutes after the conclusion of the Cowboys' exhibition victory against Oklahoma Baptist, no players or coaches had exited the locker room.

After a sloppy 66-53 victory against OBU to wrap up exhibition play, the likely scenario had the team getting shredded by coach Travis Ford and receiving a detailed account of everything that went wrong.

Instead, Ford saw it as a learning opportunity for his young Cowboy squad because of an experience he had a few years ago at Massachusetts.

"My UMass team in my second or third year, we were picked to finish pretty high in our league and guys were feeling pretty good about themselves. Then we went to scrimmage Albany, who wasn't supposed to be good and they kicked our tail," Ford said. "It was the greatest lesson we ever learned. We went on to tie for first place in the league and I always look back and know that was the difference in the year."

Coach Ford knows this team is young and impressionable. It's a group that eager to learn and get better. And Ford said he was glad this team was challenged.

"I'd like all our exhibition games to be that way," he said. "It's better for us if they're competitive."

And Sunday's game was definitely that. OBU showed up with a lot of fans and a lot of talent and built an early nine-point advantage on the Pokes. OSU went on a 12-0 run to claim the lead and held them at arm's length the remainder of the game but the Bison didn't make it easy. OBU, the 2010 NAIA national champions, twice climbed to within four of the Cowboys in the second half.

OBU's pressure forced OSU into 18 turnovers but the 24 forced by the Cowboys, in addition to a stout defensive showing, turned the tide in the Cowboys' favor.

Senior Keiton Page certainly looked like the most experienced Cowboy on the floor as he led all scorers with 18 points and made both of his 3-point attempts and all six free throws. Page referenced the 40-minute locker room speech after the game.

"(Ford) talked to us a lot in there. We got outplayed in a lot of aspects of the game, which we did. We all see that," Page said. "Just gotta cut out the negatives. We had too many negatives tonight, didn't rebound well enough, broke down the offense too much, turned it over too much, forced shots up when we shouldn't have. We're just fortunate it's early in the season, and give credit to OBU, they played well tonight. But, we're just fortunate it's early in the season. We've got time to correct the mistakes we're making right now."

Among the mistakes mentioned were the 18 turnovers to just seven assists and a paltry plus-two rebounding margin against a much smaller opponent. The Cowboys never seemed to find an offensive rhythm and there appeared to be a lot more one-on-one basketball than offensive sets, especially in the first half.

The mistakes bothered junior Jéan-Paul Olukemi so much he said it didn't really even feel like they had won the game.

"Not really, because I know what's upcoming for us, and playing like this is not gonna cut it. If anything, we're gonna get embarrassed," Olukemi said. "We're not trying to go down that road. We have high expectations for ourselves, so a game like that today, I felt like we should've just came out and just really executed the offense, and taken good care of the ball, and (taken) good shots."

Olukemi was a bright spot, finishing with 14 points, including 10 free throws in an aggressive offensive showing from the California native.

Freshman Le'Bryan Nash finished with 10 points while sophomore Markel Brown chipped in nine off the bench. Redshirt freshman Michael Cobbins tallied six points and a team-high nine rebounds.

All in all, Ford wasn't too hard on his team after an off game. He instead focused on the fact that this is why exhibition games are played. They are opportunities to learn and improve, and there is plenty of room for that.

"This was a good game for us to play," Ford said. "Hopefully we can learn a lot from it because there is so much to learn from this basketball game today. Give Oklahoma Baptist credit, they were a much more physical basketball team today than we were. They are a team you can tell has been practicing for a while, but our team faced some adversity tonight. We weren't able to come out and score 105 points tonight and have everything go well for you and understand that when it's going to be a grind-it-out type game, you have to take care of the basketball and take good shots. You can't spend all night playing defense, and tonight we broke our offense down. We took quick, bad shots a lot and then turned the ball over a lot.

"So offensively, it was a very poor performance. Our offense put way too much pressure on our defense. Our defense is a great half-court defense right now, it is really good. But it doesn't look great all the time because we are turning the ball over and taking bad shots … Once we understand the balance of the offense complimenting the defense, we will have a better ball club. We're still trying to figure that out, and we're not playing the type of team basketball that we want. The guys are figuring things out, it's great to learn."

Oklahoma State will open the regular season on Nov. 11, as the Cowboys host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 7 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

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